String Buzzing Exercise For Left Hand Pressure

In guitar playing, it’s easy to fall into the habit of applying more pressure with your left hand fingers than you really need.  You might not be aware that you’re pressing too hard until find your left hand becomes tired or strained.  This habit is hard to diagnose because it doesn’t always come with visual or auditory cues: you might not be able to see signs of excess pressure when you look at your left hand in the mirror, and you can’t hear it either. Here’s an exercise/experiment that can help you build control over left hand pressure and ultimately find the minimum level of pressure needed to get a clear tone. The idea is simple: play a scale and try to make every note buzz. That’s right — while buzzing is usually considered a mistake, in this exercise it’s the goal. Try to make the string just barely touch the fret, so that it rattles against the fret when you strike the note. You should be able to hear the note along with the buzzing: don’t press hard enough that the buzzing goes away and you get a clear tone, but don’t press so lightly that the string never comes into contact with the fret and you get a muted sound. You’ll probably find that it’s easy to create buzzing for one note in isolation, but it will take some practice to be able to achieve buzzing consistently as you play up and down the scale of your choice. That’s because buzzing only occurs within a narrow pressure range, and the right level of pressure differs slightly for each note (it depends on where the note is on the fretboard, on your guitar’s action, on the shape and height of the fret in question, and possibly also on the strength of your right hand stroke). So, by learning to achieve a consistent buzz as you play up and down the fretboard, you force yourself to pay close attention to left hand pressure and you learn to control that pressure in very precise way. (Remember, by “consistent buzz” I mean that every single note should buzz: no note should be clear, and no note should be fully muted. If you find yourself playing too many clear notes, keep practicing!) The next step, once you’ve learned to achieve a consistent buzz, is to increase the pressure very, very slightly so that the buzz goes away. Instead of doing this all at once, you could try playing a scale in alternating fashion, where one note buzzes, then next is clear, the next buzzes, and so on. Spend some time with this, and you’ll get a good sense of how it feels to play with no more left hand pressure than you need.

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